After hitting a high last week against the Manitoba Bisons, this weekend the men’s basketball team hit a tough low. After a blowout loss against the Calgary Dinos on Thursday night, the ’Birds head home empty-handed after a narrow 87-84 loss on Friday.
It was a close game on all counts too. Though Calgary came out marginally ahead of UBC in terms of field goal percentage, UBC claimed more rebounds. UBC led in bench points, Calgary led in points off of turnovers. They were even on turnovers at 21 apiece. Team veterans even played the same amount of minutes. For the T-Birds, Phil Jalalpoor and Conor Morgan played 38 and 37 minutes respectively. For the Dinos, Mambi Diawara notched 35 minutes of play.
In the end, it all came down to two differences to split the hairs: two sunk free throws for the Dinos and a missed three-pointer for UBC.
The game started off looking like it might repeat the Thursday night storyline, as Calgary took control early. Though UBC would get on the board first with a layup from Luka Zaharijevic, Dinos powerhouses Connor Foreman and Mambia Diawara forged ahead for the home side. The two of them claimed 14 of Calgary’s 16 points in the opening frame. UBC, on the other hand, managed 10 points in the first three minutes of the game but then couldn’t sink a basket until early in the second.
By the midway point of the second quarter, the Dinos had a healthy 19 point lead over the T-Birds at 31-12. From there, UBC would launch their comeback with the likes of rookies Isaiah Familia, Patrick Simon and Grant Shephard building up some attacking presence for the ’Birds. As has been evident throughout the season, the Thunderbirds depth has been an immense asset to their 2017/18 campaign — this was again showcased on Friday as they won the bench point battle with 23 compared to Calgary’s 17.
That said, the veterans weren’t about to let the rookies have all the fun. Fifth-years Jalalpoor and Morgan came to life in the second, looking comfortable on the free throw line as well as, for Morgan, hanging off the edge of the basket for a trademark dunk around the seventh minute of the second. The teams effort would get them to a marginal five-point deficit going into halftime, at 42-37.
In the second half, the T-Birds worked hard to keep the gap close. For each shot Calgary made, UBC would make their own. By the end of the third, one free throw from Mambi Diawara had moved the Dinos lead gap up by one more point, with the score at 70-64.
As the minutes fell away, so did Calgary’s lead. With a flurry of strange plays and fouls around the court, the two teams were almost shot for shot until the final minute of play. With Calgary still leading 83-76 and just under two minutes to go, Jalalpoor and Morgan each sank a pair of free throws to get the ’Birds just a three-pointer out from the Dinos.
With 26 seconds to go, Jalalpoor put away a lay up. It was a one point game. And then it wasn’t, as Kapinga sank two free throws for Calgary. 85-82 for the home team.
Conor Morgan sank a layup of his own with 12 seconds to go. And then again, a foul gave Calgary’s Lars Schlueter the chance to sink two free throws to put the Dinos ahead by three once again.
Six seconds left and Jalalpoor found himself with the three-point shot after working his way around the shooting arc onto an open pass. He shot — it bounced off the rim. The final buzzer sounded: 87-84.
A heartbreaking end to a hard-fought game for the Thunderbirds, several of whom on the starting line now have to hang up their UBC uniform after playing out five years with the team: Phil Jalalpoor, Conor Morgan and Luka Zaharijevic.
If this season told fans anything though, it’s that the depth of UBC’s roster is a strength it will continue to play into — potentially in the U Sports Final 8 as they are still eligible for an at-large playoff berth. With the likes of Mason Bourcier, Grant Shephard, Anthony Mcnish and Grant Audu putting up 755 points between them this season, the future looks bright for the T-Birds. What’s more, they have the likes of third-year Taylor Browne to potentially step into a leadership role.
The team had something to prove this year, after falling out of playoffs early last season. They proved they can get past the Bisons and the quarterfinal stage of Canada West. They put up a fight in the semis.
Maybe next season will be the year to take that last step to the Canada West final.
As mentioned, the team also still has the chance to earn the at-large berth for the U Sports nationals — giving them an opportunity to head to the nationals tournament even without making that final Canada West game. The decision for that spot will be decided on Sunday, March 4.
This article has been updated to clarify that the men's basketball team still has the opportunity to qualify for the U Sports nationals in the at-large berth.